Taking Our Country Back From the Cult of Curmudgeon

Growing up, we all had a buddy whose dad's personal zeitgeist was hatched and incubated in a Country Time Lemonade commercial.

Theirs was ostensibly an era in which freshly painted, three-bedroom ranch homes, with their lawns and shrubs groomed to meticulous splendor, lined the flanks of unblemished suburban streets, their unintentionally ironic names possibly assigned based on the natural objects that had been removed and replaced by such pristine civilization: Oak Lane, Mockingbird Terrace, Elm Drive, Magnolia Street, Swallowtail Trace, Sagebrush Road, Hillside Avenue, Meadow View Way, Willow Court. Kids played outside back in those days, in the yard - their own yard (and at a reasonable noise level). Fathers, unencumbered by pending paternity suits or restraining orders, played catch with sons - with real baseballs and footballs. (The sissified Nerf movement had yet to begin, thank God.) Tinny ballgames crackled from distant transistor radios, aromas of freshly baked pies wafted, and the intermittent buzz of lawnmowers droned throughout the mid-afternoon haze. (Somehow, it was always mid-afternoon.) Neighbors constantly looked out for one another while simultaneously minding their own damn business. There was virtually no crime, mainly because everyone possessed something that seems to be so blatantly absent from society these days: respect. For one's elders. For one's neighbor. Even for women. Respect. The blights of urban poverty, surging crime rates, illegal immigration and homosexuality had yet to be invented. That's right: there was literally no such thing. Those abominations came later, mostly as a consequence of socialistic manifestations like welfare, affirmative action, and state-sanctioned gay marriage.

Poverty had nothing to do with one's race, upbringing or social standing: It was a flaw in character, a sad excuse for a compromised work ethic. Government handouts weren't necessary unless you were, say, physically or mentally handicapped. But even then...

That there were few, if any, blacks, Jews, or Muslims in the neighborhood wasn't so much about bigotry or segregation as much as it was a function of pragmatism. (In those days, the common sense quotient of the overall population was immeasurably high.) Back then, people had enough sense to accept that things would go a lot more smoothly if they just learned to stick with their own kind. It cut down on the confusion and tension, a fact that holds true even today. That's what studies show, anyway - look it up. Or check the Internet.

While my more jaded pals scoffed at the overwrought nostalgia of Dadville, I secretly held out hope that such a place still might exist. For a naïve sixteen-year-old who loved sports, unlimited pie, and the thought of whiling away lazy summer days in the backyard playing homerun derby Wiffle ball, what wasn't there to get all misty-eyed about? I even found myself growing a bit wistful over the fact that I never had the opportunity to loll about in such a comfy suburban pleasure capsule.

What my teenage mind didn't comprehend at the time was that, if such a wondrous place had ever existed, it surely wasn't as socially equitable or meritorious as it was purported to be. The spoils reaped were the results of a rigged game. Women toiled thanklessly at home and in the workplace and were still considered largely unequal in virtually every legal and social context. And in the event of infidelity or domestic abuse, they had little, if any, course of action. Crime was largely sequestered to black and ethnic urban ghettos and "projects," where health care was scant and shady, and where infant mortality rates soared (as they often do now) - but also where liquor stores remained plentiful. The best public schools and grocery markets were (as they are now) reserved for largely segregated suburban enclaves. To maintain cultural homogeneity, it was common practice among residents of some of these bastions of supposed virtue and character to ward off prospective minority homeowners through hostile coercion.

The "others" - minorities, women, gays, and the indigent - were the discarded and, at times, repudiated byproducts of such an unjustly stratified society. But they were every bit as real as the carefully nurtured myth of the homogeneous suburban paradise from yesteryear that persists in the minds of the Cult of Curmudgeon - the wave of right-wing crusaders and Tea Party activists who continue to insist that their "way of life" is under siege. (Another critical component of this group are the LINOs, my take on the pejorative RINO moniker used by right-wingers to bully other conservatives into adopting more extremist views. LINOs, in contrast, are self-described Libertarians who nevertheless rail against gay marriage, immigration, pro-choice, evolution, and euthanasia. In other words, they're Laissez-faire deficit hawks when it comes time to pay their fair share of taxes and socially conservative busybodies whenever they happen to disagree with another's way of life.)

It's this lost world of two-car garages and cultural purity that Tea Party loyalists invoke amidst their battle cries of taking the country back. They want it back, all right. But not, like they claim, from tax-and-spend politicos, runaway big government and Washington "insiders." Had that always been the case, our previous commander-in-chief would've been public enemy number one. During its two-term regime, the Bush administration spent taxpayer dollars like a drunken redneck at 7-11 holding a winning fifty-dollar scratch 'n win:

Yeah, I'll take three cartons of them Winstons...aaaaand another carton of Winstons. How much am I up to?

The Bush brigade's TARP bailout of leviathan banks and foundering automakers amounted to the largest single federal handout since the 80s S&L debacle and is now expected to cost taxpayers upwards of $90 billion. Add that to the two concurrent and interminable wars - both commenced under Bush, orchestrated by the guiding hands of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and financed by...us - whose price tag has now achieved truly astronomical proportions. All three events were major contributors to the ballooning national debt, which, under Bush's term, increased 72 percent to $9.8 trillion.

Go figure: Barack Obama didn't invent the concepts of tax-and-spend and big business running amok after all. And yet, in a recent New York Times/CBS Poll, 57 percent of Tea Party supporters still had favorable views of their former president.

So why does Bush get a pass from the Cult of Curmudgeon while his successor gets hung in effigy? Why were there no cries of "Socialist!" when massive oil and farming conglomerates were being nursed into economic obesity by the gushing teat of the Bush cabal? Was it the pithy aphorisms? The tough talkin', shit-kickin', faux Texas twang? The astounding variety of American Flag lapel pins? Or was it because George W. Bush resembles their ideal next-door neighbor: conservative, Christian, and white?

But not anymore. That the social climate of the nation has changed so seismically and with such jolting rapidity is what this movement is really about. It's the far-right's knee-jerk reaction to living in a country in which a highly educated black man - who knows more about law, has seen and experienced more of the world, and who articulates his ideas and convictions with far more eloquence than they ever could - with the prescience to restructure American diplomacy and the courage to challenge the conventional wisdom that says a sitting president can't also be a visionary; a female House Speaker with enough clout and moxie to push landmark legislation through by sheer force of will while punishing fellow legislators who challenge her agenda; a restive gay population that's pounding on the door to equality; and a burgeoning population of minorities, whose collective birthrate will eclipse those of whites within the next two years.

(That's right, honkies: The party's over in five...)

From The Times:

They tend to be white and male, with a disproportionate number above 45, and above 65. Their memories are of a different time, when the country was less diverse...even those out of work aren't mourning the loss of a job so much as what they see as a loss of an era.

They're irascible throwbacks whose irrationality is a product of the terror one must feel when he witnesses his culture slipping into oblivion. While they often masquerade as LINOs, one peel of the onion reveals a carnival of crackpots desperately seeking a new pill to swallow, a new movement to build their nests of paranoia around. The mosaic of madness includes but is not limited to: "9/11 "truthers," "birthers," "pro-lifers," government abolitionists, home-schoolers, creationists, secessionists, Constitutionalists, survivalists, militiamen, anti-immigrationists, religious fanatics, gun fanatics, anti-gay crusaders, and Ditto-heads.
They're not humanitarians, visionaries, or even revolutionaries (as they portray themselves to be). And they're not, as is often presumed, the little guy who's tired of getting pushed around by the "system." In fact, many Curmudgeonists are solidly middle-class, too greedy to put their fair share back into a "system" that has enabled them to achieve their success in the first place. They're stingy, self-obsessed dinosaurs, clinging to obsolete visions of life not as it actually was, but as they choose to remember it.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, their power and solidarity is no aberration. Most frightening has been the far right's proficiency in parlaying creepy fanaticism into ideological unity and electoral fervor. They've already been able to supplant stalwart conservatives with hand-picked screaming mimis who appeal to their vision of ideal governance quite nicely. Most of us are already privy to Tea Party darling Rand Paul's racist gaffe on Rachel Maddow's show. But Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle has somehow managed to make Paul appear remarkably sane and sober in her single-minded quest to wrestle the crown of world's craziest non-cat lady from one of her party's more visible colleagues.

Closer to home, Carly Fiorina's acerbic rhetoric and self-proclaimed "outsider" status has earned her the Tea Party scream of approval and has reinvigorated a frequently overlooked segment of California's electorate that's as conservative as just about anywhere else in the country. In her quest to become the state's first Republican senator since pegged jeans were all the rage, Fiorina - who has seldom voted in elections of any kind since 2000 - successfully painted her primary opponent, Tom Campbell, a well-respected, stable-minded college professor, as an imposter, a liberal, despite his record as a staunch conservative. She also supports Arizona's new, highly controversial anti-immigration law, claims she would "absolutely" overturn Roe v. Wade "if the opportunity presented itself," and chided Campbell for his repulsion to the question of whether or not a person on the federal "no-fly" list should be eligible to purchase a gun. The Tea Partiers are building her presidential library as I write this.

But the scary facts remain: A failed C.E.O. who claims that California should be run more like a business, a.) doesn't understand irony and b.) is one step away from one of the most influential political posts in the world. A Fiorina victory in November would be a giant blow to a state that's already reeling economically, but, at this point, if she has the backing of the Cult of Curmudgeon's right-wing extremists and LINOs - and she clearly does - I wouldn't rule anything out.

The truth is, there are people from across the political spectrum who are deeply concerned about issues like soaring government debt, the inscrutable vagaries of the Federal Reserve, and the pervasive culture of corruption and graft within the government. These are logical concerns by sane individuals that are being overwhelmed by the shrill Chicken Littles of the far right, who somehow manage to associate things like universal health care with impending fascism. And because these more level-headed in, when informed of misguided policy, their first instinct isn't to spit on black and gay congressmen or to march on the lawn of City Hall with distorted posters of Barack Obama as "Hilter!" (sic), their legitimate concerns are all but ignored by a ravenous news cycle constantly on the hunt for conflicts and freakshows.

Before this thing really gets out of hand - before we're ultimately forced to witness the coronations of President Palin, Vice President Limbaugh, Speaker of the House Beck, and Senator Fiorina - the juggernaut of the Cult of Curmudgeon needs to be stopped, subdued, and stuffed into its straight jacket. Using the Internet, TV, and radio, the loonies have already established a propaganda beachhead, demonstrating media savvy and an uncanny ability to control the political debate.

But a massive turnout at the polls in November by those of us who still value logic, ethics, and pragmatism as integral factors in choosing our representatives could provide us with one last chance to bury the far-right's extremist steamroller in its path.